6:45 a.m. Tuesday, May 9. This story has been updated with information from dawn in South El Paso.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents and officers will conduct a “targeted enforcement operation” in El Paso Tuesday against migrants who have not been processed for entry into the United States, officials announced Monday night.

Few details were provided, though CBP officials said they will “not take enforcement action in or near a location that would restrain people’s access to essential services or engagement in essential activities to the fullest extent possible.”

More than 2,000 migrants are crowded into camps outside Sacred Heart Catholic Church and the Opportunity Center for the Homeless in South El Paso. 

Border Patrol officers on Tuesday will tell migrants without documents who are camped outside in El Paso that they have a short deadline to surrender to Border Patrol agents, with the likelihood for most of being released to stay in the United States while immigration courts consider their cases, multiple sources told El Paso Matters. The sources asked not to be identified because they’re not authorized to speak publicly.

Those who don’t surrender for processing by the deadline will face arrest by agents soon after, the sources said.

Before dawn on Tuesday, plainclothes Border Patrol agents distributed flyers to migrants at Sacred Heart — most sleeping — advising them to turn themselves in if they haven’t yet done so. No flyers were visible at the Opportunity Center, but a plainclothes federal agent was waiting to talk with migrants.

Plainclothes Border Patrol agents distributed these letters before dawn Tuesday urging migrants in South El Paso who had not yet been processed to turn themselves in. (Cindy Ramirez/El Paso Matters)

Most of the migrants camping in El Paso crossed the border by evading Border Patrol agents. As a result, they don’t have documents that would allow them to travel by plane, bus or other transportation out of El Paso and to the interior of the United States.

Others camping out surrendered to Border Patrol and have documents allowing travel, but some are waiting for money for transportation.

This 39-year-old Venezuelan man, who did not want his name used, was among migrants in South El Paso who awoke to a flyer from Border Patrol urging them to do so if they haven’t already. “I’d rather die than go back empty handed,” the man said. (Cindy Ramirez/El Paso Matters)

Migrants interviewed Tuesday expressed skepticism about surrendering to Border Patrol. One 25-year-old Venezuelan woman said she was expelled to Tijuana two weeks ago and returned to El Paso on Friday.

The woman, who asked not to be identified, said she didn’t come this far to give up but is now afraid of what will happen to her. She said she’s distrustful of Border Patrol but can’t go back to Venezuela for fear of being labeled a traitor and possibly jailed.

Migrants in South El Paso awoke Tuesday to flyers from the Border Patrol urging themselves to turn themselves in if they had not yet done so. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

El Paso Catholic Bishop Mark Seitz walked through the area around Sacred Heart early Tuesday, talking with migrants.

“I told them that what we heard is that if they go with the buses that they will be processed, and if there is no record against them they will be able to continue in the United States,” Seitz said.

“And so from my perspective, it sounds like this might be the best opportunity they have. They don’t have a lot going for them. But these are the assurances we have received and we hope that they will have an opportunity,” Seitz said.

He said he believes the Border Patrol will follow up with operations around the church to remove migrants who have not been processed.

El Paso Catholic Bishop Mark Seitz talked with migrants Tuesday morning in South El Paso. (Cindy Ramirez/El Paso Matters)

CBP officials said immigration enforcement agents will process individuals for vetting and placement into Title 42 expulsion or Title 8 removal proceedings, as applicable. Noncitizens who pose a threat to national security or public safety will be transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for detention. 

“As we have said repeatedly, individuals who do not have a lawful basis to remain will be removed,” Acting CBP Commissioner Troy Miller said in a statement. “Individuals should not listen to the lies of smugglers and instead use lawful pathways to protection.”

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Plainclothes Border Patrol agents distributed flyers in South El Paso in the pre-dawn hours Tuesday, May 9, urging migrants to surrender to agents if they hadn’t already done so. (Cindy Ramirez/El Paso Matters)

Title 42 is a public health policy that was invoked in 2020 to allow the immediate expulsion of migrants who entered the United States without authorization. The use of Title 42 is scheduled to end Thursday, but U.S. officials can conduct expulsions until then.

Title 8 is the federal immigration law that covers the deportation of people who enter without authorization. Migrants have the legal right to seek protection from removal by seeking asylum or other relief from immigration courts.

Tens of thousands of migrants from Central and South America, the Caribbean and other countries are currently waiting in Ciudad Juarez and other Mexican border cities and are expected to cross into the United States when Title 42 ends.

The news of the CBP operation was first reported by the El Paso Times.

Also Monday night, CBP officials said that they were temporarily reducing processing lanes and passenger operations at the Paso del Norte Bridge in Downtown El Paso. They urged travelers to use other ports of entry.

Robert Moore is the founder and CEO of El Paso Matters. He has been a journalist in the Texas Borderlands since 1986.

El Paso native Cindy Ramirez has spent most of her career in journalism, with some stints in public and media relations and military reporting. She's covered everything from education to local government...

Corrie Boudreaux is a lecturer in the Department of Communication at UTEP and a freelance photojournalist in the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez region. She specializes in photography as a tool to explore insecurity,...

Elida S. Perez is a senior reporter for El Paso Matters. Her experience includes work as city government watchdog reporter for the El Paso Times, investigative reporter for El Paso Newspaper Tree and communities...